Category Archives: OUR TIME – The State of Metaphysics

The Big Lie and the Great Truth

The split between the spirit and the flesh is a subtle fallacy which has had fundamental and dire consequences in the development of Western Culture from the beginnings of Semitic culture. Bodily consciousness and spiritual awareness are essentially one, and this is the ontological base for realizing the oneness of God.

The Big Lie and the Great Truth

Contents

The Big Lie

1. Identity Unrooted

         The Semitic Tradition

2. Man vs Nature

         Western History

3. Sex vs Spirit

         Eroticism and Spiritual Potential

The Great Truth: All is One

         The Body as the Temple

         1.  The Innate Wisdom of Body Awareness as the Source of Gnosis

                  The Garden into the Kingdom

Chi: The Innate Wisdom of Body Awareness as the Source of Gnosis in East Asian Religious Practice

2.  The Method of Tantric Yoga

                  Working with the Chakras

3.   A Scenario of the Tantric Integration Process

                  The Importance of the Root Chakra

                  The Pattern of Breathing and Visualization

                  The Systematic Transformation of the Chakras into Gnosis

The Peace of the Great Truth

 

 The Big Lie and The Great Truth

 

The Big Lie: Flesh vs Spirit (body vs mind)

 

The flesh lusts after the spirit and the spirit lusts after the flesh.

St Paul

What St Paul says in this famous quotation is at once the problem and the suggestion of a solution.  The problem is that in the Semitic tradition the spirit and the flesh have been so construed, seen as fundamentally separated, that each is incomplete without the other.  Falsely separated, they “lust” after each other.  This lie produces the fundamental angst of Western consciousness.

1.  Identity Unrooted

We understand that birth is an original trauma of separation from the Mother.  Healing this trauma at our source is the stuff of religion and makes pilgrims out of all humans.  Yet we come into a consciousness, which, though undifferentiated, is one.  Subsequent experience of the freedom of the mind and the limitations of the body, however, leads to a fundamental human tendency to differentiate them.

This universal tendency takes on a special character in the West.  The original separation comes out of Semitic culture.  As the New Testament is based in the Old Testament, so Christian culture is based in Semitic culture.

We have learned from the feminists that the cultures descended from Semitic culture have been male dominated. Much is to be seen by starting with the earliest experience of the male infant in that culture.

Consciousness enters with conception, it grows as one in the mother.  At birth that consciousness is full unitary potential, one, body and mind undifferentiated.  Then in a moment of primal, original, and unimaginable pain something at the most essential core, something bodily, secret, intimate and close to the center of ones unitary being is severed.  A chorus of adult voices chant their approbation. This event, possibly the first memory, at once severs the (internal and intrinsic) primordial connection to nature, true power, and simultaneously seals the connection to the (external and extrinsic) authoritative God.  It sets the ground for an identity traumatically alienated from its roots and stressed in a lifetime of trying to regain union.

ChristCircum  Circumcision of Jesus

This is circumcision, a fundamental Semitic event happening at the beginning of life to each male child from the time of Abraham as a sign of his covenant with God, and followed ever since by all males in the traditions descended from the patriarch.

I am not saying that circumcision causes Western Culture, but that it reflects a certain archetypal quality of the Western psyche, which has always been male dominated.  This ritual act and the thinking behind it sets up Western culture in a characteristic way. There are of course many “gentile” Christians who are not circumcised, yet they still live in a culture grounded in the original Abrahamic identity uprooted in this way from its primordial nature. These are the men who have shaped Western Culture.

This ritual act grossly establishes something very fundamental: you were made wrong!  This raises all sorts of weird ambiguities that remain largely in the shadows. For instance, if God is perfect and good, why did He make me this way?  Why does His perfect work have to be mutilated in order that I might be put right?  His perfection thus made terribly wrong, must I then spend the rest of my life trying to attain union with Him?  Is it not this wound, passed from generation to generation, that establishes and continually confirms Original Sin in the first place? How can the child in his innocence deal with these questions, particularly in a culture of adults that never address them? Does this not imprint upon him forever what he will experience for the rest of his life as guilt and anxiety?

With this miasma of primal questions relegated to the shadows and never addressed, the covenant with the Semitic God is sealed.  But before the fundamental agreement is secured, the man-child is violently and irrevocably separated from what is given.

Let us be clear, this covenant between man and God is based on a primordial, traumatic separation which is self-inflicted.

SelfFlagellationChristian flagellants

 

2. Man vs Nature

The human is a psycho-physical being.  Dividing the physical off from the psyche sets up a contradiction in reality.

What is actually happening here is that the mind has rejected the primal body with all of its awareness and connection to primordial being.  In the last hundred years this has been clarified as the nature of psychological pathology; first by Freud as the repression of the id, or the itness of the body/psyche, and then by Jung as the formation of the “shadow”. What is rejected forms itself into sabotage.  The rejected being turns negative and becomes the antagonist. The body and its energies, and by extension, nature itself, become the enemy of the spirit/mind.  The control of this enemy and its persecution becomes the main challenge of life and the function of Western religion.

Separating mind off from body violates the primordial unity and creates a state of chronic internal division and anxiety.  This is the Fall.

 

Western History

Judaism created this split, cemented in the consciousness of each new generation by circumcision, thus producing a fundamental angst and guilt. Then Jesus Christ appeared to show that only foundational love could heal this angst.  Some early Christians followed his inspiration and found a way to renew the primordial unity through gnosis.

A description and a full discussion of gnosis is to be found in the long essay, The Heart of the Matter. In the present essay, we will consider gnosis as the understanding which is a return to the primordial unity of spirit and body.

Gnosis is returning understanding to the original given state of awareness, the Garden. When the primordial unity is rendered conscious through gnosis, it becomes the true Kingdom.  This is the nature of true power.  However, gnosis does not wield power, nor does it control.  It unifies and empowers: it does not divide and conquer.

When Christianity was brought under the hierarchical structure of Rome and became the Catholic Church, the deeper unifying truths realized through gnosis were co-opted into external authoritarian fact, which furthers the Semitic tradition of setting the spirit against the body, thus creating a fundamentally anxious existence riddled with guilt.  The Kingdom became exiled to the afterlife, and the anxiety fed into the resolve in this life to exert control over one’s body and behave oneself.  When Christianity became the State Religion, it got relegated to the Roman power structure which attempts to legislate and regulate behavior in a fundamentally anxious existence based on a self-generated and perpetuating split.  It is like the man who sets fire to houses and then provides a service for putting house fires out, which becomes a very lucrative business.

Thus in the Hebraic and Christian traditions, the split of flesh and spirit became foundational to the development of the Western concept of human nature in which mind and spirit are at war with nature, derisively labeled “flesh”.  This is a usurpation of Christ by the anti-Christ of power lust.

In this war of spirit and flesh, domination becomes the central theme.  The spirit MUST dominate the flesh or else all is lost. Among the myriad reasons that Western Culture has come to dominate the world, this is perhaps the metareason.  Since men identify women with fleshly lust, they must be dominated and held in place.  When this was added to Greed, the formula became deadly.  Since the indigenous cultures of the world have not been indoctrinated with the Christian truth of spirit over flesh, they must be destroyed, enslaved or at the very least clothed in modesty. By the way, while we are imposing upon them our Christian truth, the resources of their lands can make us very rich.  Since Nature is the source of flesh, it too must be controlled and enslaved. Science can dominate nature, and technology can exploit all this planetary resource.

Where has all of this led us?

The most powerful impulse in Western religious history to reconstrue this narrative of spirit vs flesh and to reground the Kingdom in the Garden, was led by St Francis, who sought to heal the breach by reestablishing a simple, holy relationship to nature, which he believed to be the truth of God.  Though he came to be revered with great sentimentality, he did not succeed in his dream of “rebuilding the church”. In fact the church dealt with his simple tendency to reform the relationship to nature with characteristic cunning: it assimilated the Franciscan Order into itself and built grand temples adorned in gold to honor Francis.

With this holy project thus incorporated into the power of the Church, the way was clear for the domination of the world, starting with the invasion of the Southern Hemisphere by sword and cross.

The Enlightenment furthered the project to lift Western man out of the experience of nature, by promoting the practice of observing nature and manipulating it, creating science and technology which dreamed of creating the Kingdom on Earth.

Yet it did not satisfy the human heart. In the Romantic period great sentiment to return to nature took hold. Romantics longed to reunite with heart and soul and the givens of nature. One star of British Romanticism, poet and theologian William Blake, succinctly diagnosed the Big Lie and identified the basis of the Great Truth.   In 1793 in the opening declaration of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Blake stated this thesis in concise terms.

“All Bibles or sacred codes have been the cause of the following Errors:
1.   That Man has two real existing principles viz: a body and a soul.
2.   That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, and that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3.   That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True:
1.   Man has no body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in these days.
2.   Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3.   Energy is Eternal Delight”

In the late nineteenth century the forces of nature came to be seen as a kind of godless force, the Will of nature and instinct.  Darwin demonstrated this in external nature, and Freud demonstrated it in internal nature.  This Will, raised to a kind of religion by Nietzsche, was glorified in two traumatic world wars that profoundly exhausted all efforts to realize the enlightenment dream of applied science as the savior of civilization and resulted in the annihilation of all essential value. The victors led the world into unparalleled development, which began to overwhelm nature on a planetary scale.

The longing for an authentic relationship to nature exploded into the sixties, which ushered in a dream of realignment with nature, through sexuality, through the equality of all humans before nature, in the growing ecological movements, and through a diaspora of Western youth into the spirituality of Asia and indigenous cultures still integrated by their sacred relationship to nature.

As for the Enlightenment dream of dominating nature through science and technology, it has turned into a nightmare.  Western man, fueled by his antagonism against nature, and in marked contrast to most other traditions which honored nature, set out upon a conquest and exploitation of the earth that has resulted in a destruction of the environment that now threatens the very existence of the human species.

 

3. Sex vs Spirit

One of many consequences of this complex, producing anxiety on the most intimate level, is the mishandling of vital or sexual energy in the Christian tradition.  The stance of the church towards sexual expression outside of marriage is “Just say no”. Like its modern cousin in drug policy, this strategy exerts control but doesn’t work. It never has.  The priest and the prostitute are in business together.  The priest creates the guilt, which foments temptation and hunger, which the prostitute satisfies, which creates more guilt, which the priest then forgives with the admonition to not sin again….

The one situation in which the breach of body and spirit may be authentically healed is the marriage bed, in the case where the chemistry is right.  Here the ecstasy of sexuality may ascend through the heart of love into the bliss of sacred union.  This experience of the primordial union is regarded as a great blessing in the Semitic tradition and has caused romantic love to be raised in the West to the status of true fulfillment, up there with salvation.  As the culture has become more and more secularized, romantic love has been raised to a universal cult, now the obsession of pop culture the world over.  While the split of body and spirit remains deep in western culture, every loud speaker in the world proclaims its only antidote in rhythmic and lyrical paeans to romantic love, celebrated obsessively as the only true value in life.  However, this is a blessing vouchsafed to a few.  Fewer still are those married who find their way to sustain this kind of union for a lifetime of sexual/spiritual satisfaction on the part of both partners.  Very few indeed.  And the others?  The other 95%?  Well, just say no.

As the sexual scandals of the church become more and more appalling, it becomes increasingly clear that the “just say no” policy of the church towards sexual energy, is demonically dysfunctional, indeed malignant.  In words the Pope used to describe homosexuality, this handling of vital energy is “intrinsically disordered”.

The Western attitude towards sex culminated in the repressiveness of the Victorian period, which, as Freud and Jung showed, sets man against himself, thus creating a deep pathology.  Sexual repression continued however up until the early Sixties, when the suppression exploded into the sexual revolution with its own attendant obsessions and painful excesses.

 

Eroticism and Spiritual Potential

In fact, hidden in the Christian story has been an underlying theme that the height and genuineness of spiritual experience was inversely related to the capacity for depth of erotic experience.  Original Christians, those true to themselves rather than to the traditions, often understand this.  Some of the greatest Christians were very experienced in sex, reputedly Mary Magdalene, who was the first to realize the risen Christ, and Saint Augustine, who was the first to frame Christianity in the context of the great Platonic tradition.  Christians like to believe that when these spiritual giants became Christians they gave it all up.  However they may have reformed and repudiated it subsequently, their prior sexual experience and understanding was still part of their total experience and make up.  Another perspective would be that the depth of their sexuality was the basis for the originality and heights of their spiritual insight.  This alternative possibility is now corroborated by an entirely different form of information, which comes from a growing comprehension of the great spiritual and religious traditions outside of the West.

Gnosis does not support a stand against the body, but reaches back into the intelligence of consciousness that is prior to a split between body and spirit.  This it does by realigning primal bodily awareness with mind.  This union is the basis of true spirit, which alone is capable of receiving the fullness of gnosis.

 michelangelo_paintings_3

 Crucifixion sketch, Michelangelo

 

The Great Truth: All is One

         Flesh lusts after spirit and spirit lusts after flesh because they have been traumatically separated and falsely identified and, as such, underneath, they yearn for each other. This produces a fundamental anxiety in which lust is a form of desperation.  On a deeper level, they desire each other because they belong together. Most primordially, however, they are not separate, but one.  That is to say bodily consciousness and spiritual awareness are essentially of the same origin and are the ontological base for the oneness of God.  This is the Garden the realization of which is the Kingdom.

davincivmanVitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci

 

 

      

The Body as the Temple

The fundamental human tendency to separate mind and body has been dealt with in different ways by the great religions of Asia.

The body is the primal fact of existence.  It is the given.  Everything else that the mind construes — stories, myths, images — are constructs in a world which very possibly is just collectively imagined.  The body however is different.  It is the concrete given of God.  Therefore the body, not the stories fabricated for human belief, is the primordial access to God.  It is that within which consciousness may authentically become aware of its own divine nature.  This is the basic insight of Yoga.  It sharply divides West from East.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root, yuk, which means “yoking or uniting.”  The most sophisticated of these unifying traditions are the yoga practices from the Sanskrit tradition, Taoism, the contemplative tradition growing out of Chen Buddhism, and the Tantric schools of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, which cultivate the root awareness of the body and use it to inform and cultivate the intelligence, thus “uniting mind and body” creating true spirit, the source of gnosis.

Asia has had its great dominators, but they did not have the same fierce complex of Spirit vs Flesh underlying and fueling their need to dominate.  That is perhaps why they have not, up to this time, overtaken the world as did Western culture.

The practices of these great Asian traditions are methods for returning the mind to its primordial or natural ground, the Garden.  These conceptions are absolutely alien to the Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  For these religions, the Garden was lost with the Fall.

1.The Innate Wisdom of Body Awareness as the Source of Gnosis

The great truth of the Garden as the base for the Kingdom, the primordial oneness of being, is alien to the Western mind.  Therefore this discussion has two purposes:

– To show that the alienation of mind and body is not intrinsic to the human situation nor absolute as it is regarded in the West, but belongs to the Semitic/Christian tradition.

– To show how the practices of the great Eastern traditions systematically generate gnosis by bringing the body and the mind together, as it were, uniting the branches of mind with its roots in body awareness to realize the trunk of authentic human being.  This is the tree of true knowledge.

To truly reveal how this split is overcome in the Asian contemplative tradition is to take a Western reader further and further afield from recognizable territory. For those unfamiliar with Asian religions and practice, this discussion will become more and more alien.

In the end the unification of mind and body is not an intellectual proposition.  It is, like gnosis, a state of being. Therefore the following goes over the same process of unification in a progressively detailed manner, each time going into a deeper analysis.

– First we will go over the general principle of generating gnosis through chi or bodily awareness.

– Second, there is a more articulated description of how this union is brought about in different contemplative practices.

– Third, there is a completely articulated description of how the Kingdom is achieved through the Tantric method of contemplating the chakras.

In order to get a real understanding of the Great Truth, stay with the first description, understand it better, go through the second, get as full an understanding as possible on an intellectual level, use the third, articulated discussion, to understand how gnosis is generated and what it is.

 

The Garden into the Kingdom

At a very fundamental level our consciousness has never left the Garden. It is this that gives us such longing, such pleasure, and the peace that we experience in nature.  We all come into the Garden, get separated by the world, spend our lives as pilgrims on a path, which as gnosis grows, becomes clearly oriented toward reunion that ends in the Kingdom.

Taoism may be the most ancient of the great Asian religions, but it is certainly most fundamental in the sense that nature, the external Garden, and the body, the internal Garden, are both the central objects and metaphors of contemplation by which intelligence is shaped into gnosis, understood in Taoism as knowledge of the basic “way” of being, the Tao.  This characterizes the archetypal approach to religion in Asia.

TaoistlandscapeTaoist landscape

 

Chi: The Innate Wisdom of Body Awareness as the Source of Gnosis

These great Asian traditions are generally based in the experience and contemplation of the fundamental body-based energy of life or being, known as CHI.  Chi is the basic awareness that is both body and mind, fundamental life consciousness. This source is symbolized, figured, and contemplated as the body center, four finger widths below the level of the navel, known in the Zen tradition as hara, in the Chinese tradition as d’an tien, and in the Hindu tradition as the nabi chakra

From the outset it is essential to clarify the distinction between conceptual/ linguistic knowing based on empirical information and chi awareness. Whatever constructs the mind invents to explain its existence is derivative. Derivative means names and forms, or concepts and language formed out of experience. The body is the given of human existence. It is also its source.  Its form is the primordial metaphor of consciousness, providing an imagery that is more original to the natural mind than any conceptions, histories, or mythologies can ever be.  Furthermore, however, the body is itself conscious.  This consciousness is chi.  Chi is not concepts, ideas or empirical information about the objective body, such as we find in Western science, but the body’s awareness of itself.  Its “cultivation” in East Asian religions is in fact uncovering a primal awareness that is chronically covered over by our lives construed in names and forms, or concepts and language. This dislocation of concept/form from actual bodily consciousness is a separation of body and spirit that is universal.  But it is compounded in the particular way that we have discussed in Semitic monotheism. This primordially unitary bodily awareness is the root of the natural mind.  These roots are the direct source of gnosis.

Cultivating chi and learning how to contemplate it means that one is engaging a knowing that is directly related to the root of being.  This engagement opens up the awareness and ultimately the gnosis that is prior to the split of “body and spirit”  It is more primordial than this split, more whole, more holy.  As the mind becomes receptive to this awareness it opens itself up to direct access to chi, which access, through careful contemplation, becomes gnosis.

In Ch’an and Zen Buddhism, the fundamental spiritual technique is to return the mind to awareness in body center chi.  What incomprehending Westerners have described as “contemplating your navel,” is concentration into this center which relocates consciousness in body generated awareness as the source of mental awareness.  It realigns the mind with the body. The experience of hara is to enter into the silent emanation of life consciousness from its source.  This emanation radiates into awareness as gnosis.

All of the active meditations, such as those Westerners refer to as “the martial arts,” are also disciplines which center consciousness and activity in the body center. Whereas in Zen sitting, centered stillness emanates the utter silence, “the emptiness” of gnosis, motion meditation provides experience of primordial body energy emanating into the kinesthesis of movement, which is an archetype of all physical experience.  Perhaps the greatest of these, Tai Chi and its many variations, involve balanced movements that originate from the body center, but are slowed down to the point where they become the emanation of life, the actual experienced flow of chi into movement.  The movements are archetypal positions which cultivate realignment, body consciousness as the source of all mental experience.  Devotion to these practices allows the bodily source of awareness to instruct the mind with the primordial knowing of gnosis.

The purpose of the entire endeavor is to bring the chi (the Garden) up into the mind, where it reforms intelligence, and returns to the heart, the center of being as blissful union. (The Kingdom)

Integrating the polarity of sexuality and the highest spirit means returning to the Garden of their primordial unity.  This polarity is understood and integrated, but grounded in the conscious experience of their primordial oneness.  This is the experience of monism. This is the Kingdom.  It obviates the need for domination at its core.

 

2.  The Method of Tantric Yoga

The process of awakening chi, or bodily awareness and allowing it to reconstitute intelligence is handled in a different way, with another kind of technology, developed in the contemplative traditions of India.  These techniques are called Tantra. There are two forms of Tantra, left- and right-handed.

Left-handed Tantra proceeds by sexual practice which is actually a deep penetration into the nature of sexual energy and bodily reality. In this form of Tantra, sensuality and sexuality are cultivated into deep bodily awareness, and the achievement of high blissful states becomes a spiritual path. Orgasm is separated out from ejaculation and contemplated as the clear light of consciousness, which with practice and detachment, in time begins to radiate gnosis.  Ritual intercourse focuses on the blissful union of active and receptive (yang and yin) capacities and their divine union, which is a whole other way of achieving mind/body unification.

The Christian advocacy of the union of man and wife into one flesh in the West permits this form of access to the primordial undifferentiated consciousness.  In fact it is the only means in the Christian tradition, but because of the negation of the flesh it is virtually unspeakable.  There are no Christian scriptures prescribing how this is to proceed or be cultivated.  You say your marriage vows and then you’re on your own.  By contrast the left-handed Tantra in India and China has been a refined field of spiritual endeavor in which detailed instruction abounds.

There is much in the Tantric tradition which promises success through this methodology, but at the same time this left-handed path has always been considered very dangerous because, as anyone who has practiced it understands, it’s intrinsic pleasure tends inevitably to becomes an end in itself.  The practice originated in a culture that was not dedicated to the split of body and mind.  That split, as we have seen, creates the mutual lust of body and mind for each other, the root of our Western compulsions around sexuality.  Many Westerners are attracted into this path as a function of our sexual revolution, itself related to the attempt on the part of Westerners to heal the breach of body and mind. Except in the case of those who are unwaveringly dedicated to spiritual development, this path almost inevitably degenerates into mere cultivation of sexual pleasure and feeds into sexual addiction, a distraction which becomes increasingly destructive. Breaking with this diversion is a difficult process in its own right, requiring a drastic process such as the Twelve Steps.

The other form of Tantra, called “right-handed” is a systematic contemplative method for discovering body awareness, working to transform it into the intelligence of wisdom.  This is often called “seated Tantra,” because it is traditionally done cross-legged in a “lotus” position, which itself may be contemplated as the image of a unified mind and body, as the upper body sits rectified on a balanced and grounded base.

As in the case of Zen and Chen contemplation, seated Tantra begins with a deep cultivation of chi awareness. This means that the awareness can drop out of its mental preoccupations into pure body-based awareness.

This is a summary of the way chakra practice proceeds.

As a Tantric, one cultivates the experience of this level of consciousness, or chi, to the point where one learns to identify and inhabit this ground directly.  This is already a spiritual accomplishment as it provides a cradle or base of peace to which one can always retreat. Moreover, contemplation of chi begins to yield base knowledge of consciousness itself, which yields conscious apprehension of the nature of existence.  This is an extatic experience. Outer nature is the perfect image of chi awareness.  It constantly radiates the chi awareness which has been overlooked internally. Once this relationship is corrected through the internal accession to chi, nature becomes the blissful objective correlative of a subjective experience that reflects the primordial union before the Fall.

Tantra proceeds as this chi awareness grows very intense and enters the heart, where, recognizing itself, it becomes joy of universal love for all that is sensate. Further on, the chi awareness approaches the intelligence, which recognizes the apprehension as the base truth, gets informed by it, reshaped as it were in the understanding of primordial existence.  This corrects the mind’s wiring to the separated state to which Western consciousness is so committed, and regrounds it in primordial unity with the body.

This is the healing of the mind. It can be called the new mind, but it is “new” only in respect to the separated state, the norm which is falsely understood to be basic.  In fact it is the natural mind, the intelligence that is one with being.  The mind has been healed of The Fall, and The Garden has been regained. The mind that has lived in the intelligence and intellect of the Fall, but is regenerated by the Garden, enters the Kingdom.

The illumination of the new mind is experienced as bliss, which becomes the presence of the divine. This is the enlightenment of the spirit, of consciousness itself.  This bliss of enlightenment is then directed to the heart where it becomes true compassion, that is overwhelming love, experienced as an absolute dedication to the well-being of all that is sensate.  Again it is important to understand that this is not a mere intellectual or sentimental proposition, but a state of being.  This experienced conviction is directed primarily at other human beings, as it sees each individual as the one human being whose real condition is also this state.  But it is further the dedication to all that is sensate through the understanding that the physical and the sensate are actually one.

This creates the Kingdom: intrinsically one with all being and dedicated to the well-being of all that emanates from it.  This is the one God, the existential experience and grounding in the one, the state of monism.

This existence out of the heart, the presence of God, is innately good, which means it is spontaneously moral. This is the radiant nature of the Good.  It is true morality, but until the Kingdom is realized and morality (the Good) is intrinsic to thought, morality has to be legislated and enforced from above. The necessity for this legislation returns the situation to the role of authoritative Religion, and there it becomes subject to the vicissitudes of power, best summarized in the proposition that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This perversion, which comedic commentator Bill Maher describes as “religulous” provokes the kind of anti-religious vituperation that dominates current Western Culture.

Perhaps you have understood the basic point that the Big Lie of the split of spirit and flesh can be supplanted by an actual experience and knowledge of the Great Truth, the primordial oneness of being.  In many ways this lies at the base of the difference between East Asian culture and Western culture derived from Semitic religion.  However, if you want to understand this further, proceed carefully.  Now we will go over this same material as it presents itself in seated Tantric practice, showing the actual steps, involving breath and visualization by which the Kingdom may be accomplished.

 

Working with the Chakras:

Visualization and the Transformation of Chi into Gnosis

In the very ancient tradition of Tantra the process of unifying with the roots of being became formulated into the notion of chakras, points of awareness located along the spine.  The spine is thus the image of primordial bodily consciousness. The chakras differentiate this consciousness into levels or spheres of body-based awareness.

spinalchakrasChakras in the spine

Chakras are ways of symbolizing and articulating levels of chi awareness.  They are a tool for contemplating primordial bodily awareness, articulating the root of gnosis, and integrating it into intelligence, the fruit of wisdom, thus returning consciousness to its praeternatural state, the experience of which is bliss and compassion.  It brings the Garden into full awareness, therefore producing the Kingdom.

The validity of the chakras is not that they physically or materially exist, but that they are an effective meditative device.  Various Tantric traditions differentiate the chi awareness into various forms.  There are systems of three, five, seven, nine, twelve, even up to 108 chakras.  This does not mean that these systems contradict each other. Each represents a different way of articulating subtle levels of bodily originating consciousness, of, as it were, cutting up the pie of given human awareness.

The base, source and union of these chakras are figured either as the spine, or in some traditions as a central channel rising through the center of the body from the perineum to the crown. We will stay with the more primordial image of the spine. The points of awareness envisioned along the spine are actually aspects of chi or bodily awareness.  Be clear however, this is not anatomy, and we are not competing with anatomy. The chakras located along the spine do not “objectively exist,” but constitute a tool for focusing awareness or contemplating levels of primordial awareness.  They are a mental tool for accessing pre-mental, non-derivative, or given awareness.

The discipline is learning how to focus contemplation in each of these points so that the level of awareness associated with it becomes completely accessible.  The visualization is enhanced by various image based aids.  Some traditions imagine that the chakras are pearls.  Some image the chakras as flowers which bloom with growing awareness of that particular aspect.

 

3. A Scenario of the Integration Process

In the following I will examine generically this form of Tantra in order to  illustrate in some detail the process by which body and mind may be returned to their original unseparated state.  There follows the generic steps by which this process proceeds.

In this scenario we arbitrarily choose a system of seven chakras located along the spine. We will see each chakra in the image of a sun radiating this aspect of chi or bodily awareness. Each of these is a quality of chi which can be unified with intelligence.

1. The base chakra, a pink sun located at the perineum or tip of the spine, which radiates the conscious energy of sex and vitality.

2. The red/gold sun located at the level of the body center, which radiates fundamental bodily structure and survival.

3. The yellow sun located at the level of the solar plexus,which radiates the structure of physical reality and well being.

4. The green sun at the level of the heart, which radiates care, feeling, emotion and morality.

5. A light blue sun at the nape of the neck, which radiates intuitive knowing.

6. A dark blue sun in the center of the head, which radiates intellectual understanding.

7. A violet sun at the crown, which unifies all the chakras radiating all consciousness itself. When this sun is brought down and reunified with the heart chakra, it becomes the innate compassion at the core of unified consciousness.

In this scheme you can see that the unification happens by constantly reunifying the top to the bottom, in effect, heaven and earth. Just as the spine is originally one, so consciousness is one.  Therefore a special relationship exists between the polarity of chakra 1 (vitality) and 7, (highest consciousness).  This is the fundamental reunification that has to take place, because it brings the spine into its primordial unity. This is echoed in a special relationship between chakra two and six, union of intellect with the fundamental structure of body and life.  Similarly, chakra three (physical reality and well-being) informs five (intuitive knowing).  Everything revolves around the heart that draws the entire unity to itself which is the true center.

chakras unification  Chakra spiral

This unification is “new,” not in the sense that it never existed, but only in the sense that a false separation of mind and body has been rectified by the practice. I think the kind of wisdom that we find in indigenous cultures differs greatly because the separation has not taken place in the first place. However, wisdom regained from the separation, having been the condition of the mind inherited by the culture as in the West, has a special quality of transcendence.

So how does the practice accomplish this reunion?

The practitioner imagines that, as he concentrates into one of these suns, it becomes warmer, heating up, becoming brighter and brighter.  This image functions to intensify and amplify consciousness of that particular level of bodily awareness.  This facilitates bringing bodily awareness into mental awareness, thus integrating the bodily knowing with intelligence.

This is almost impossible to describe because our language uses name and form to serve a knowing that is more primordial than name and form.  This is why the name and form of chakras is fabricated as a means for focusing on the chakras as a way of bringing name and form back into the primordial awareness that is its source. In a way the mental imagery is a means for directing awareness into the body as its source. Once the realization is accomplished, this tool is no longer necessary.

 

The Importance of the Root Chakra

The root or sexual chakra has a special importance to the Big Lie and the Great Truth. Its sexual consciousness is the actual (hormonal) source of the mental projections of sexuality onto the world.  This separates the world into what turns you on and what doesn’t. This is the fundamental dynamic by which consciousness is thrown onto the world and attachment is formed.  This mechanism of attachment is the ongoing cause of the Fall whereby source and world are kept separated.

This is why the sexual chakra is specially important, because it is here that we find the root of the fundamental process by which our divine vitality is thrown upon the world away from the source. Knowing this, and being able to return the primordial energy to its primal bodily source becomes the possibility of true spiritual life.

To return the spirit from its fallenness into the world, this fundamental projection has to be reversed. The names and forms that stimulate or evoke sexual feeling has to be shut down and the awareness returned to the genitals with such intensity of focus that one reowns the root chakra as the source of sexual energy, thus reversing the natural tendency to experience the names and forms as the stimulating source.  This goes against all conditioning that has essentially thrown the fundamental vitality of sexuality onto external forms.

In a way the denial and persecution of the flesh so important to many waves of puritanical reform in the history of the church was a very crude and misguided way of attempting to achieve this fundamental return of projection to source.  The “denial of the flesh” should be a process for taking divine or given vitality back from its projections, experienced as lust for sex objects, into its source so that it can then be experienced as the root of the spirit.  Instead the “mortification of the flesh” starts with a form of hatred of the bodily self and proceeds by trying to eliminate the vitality altogether. To clean the bathwater it eliminates the baby.  This is one more result of the Big Lie in Semitically derived culture.

 

         The Pattern of breathing and Visualization

The following generic description of chakra meditation is intended to show how Tantric traditions draw out body energy consciousness and unify it with the mind to generate gnosis.

In the meditation process the contemplator brings awareness back into the chakra by very controlled breath and visualization into the transformative modification of intelligence and the realization of blissful totality and compassion.   With breath slowed to a constant long inhale and exhale, it may proceed something like the following:

Long slow inhale

You direct awareness, envisioned as intense heat bursting into flame concentrated into the spine.

Slow exhale

You concentrate awareness into the chakra or sun, which you envision as becoming very hot and luminous.

Slow inhale

You see the heat specific to the chakra as fire in the spine experienced as concentrated awareness, and you envisioned it traveling up the spine where it becomes very brilliant, illuminating the blue sun, reforming your intellect.  This is the union of body awareness and intelligence.

Slow exhale

This union creates its own joy of reunion which you envision as the heat of the chakra being shot up into the violet sun, the crown chakra, the totality of consciousness.  The experience of the totality is no longer ideational or conceptual, but is pure experience of the blissful nature of consciousness itself.

Slow inhale

You then visualize this heated, brilliant bliss, the realized crown chakra, descending into the heart which it inflames with compassion.

Slow exhale
You then breathe this compassion out through the body, charging it with awareness (chi), out into the consciousness of all beings in the universe.

 

This elaborate routine with each chakra is neither magical nor a one time thing.  It is a tool so alien to the Western mind that it takes years to really understand what one is doing.  I have been working with it for forty years. One has to become very adept, first at doing the visualizations and the breathing, then learning how to use this experience as a “lens” for observing the corresponding subtlety of bodily awareness, then as a tool for branding the intelligence with primordial bodily awareness, which produces a unification by which the totality of consciousness can be realized. This is true contemplation.

Therefore to become “an adept” the routine has to be practiced under the guidance of an accomplished proficient, through subtle trial and error, often over many repetitions, even many years.  With increasing proficiency in the use of the technique, it becomes a genuine pattern of contemplation.  It is this genuine contemplation which clarifies consciousness and gradually brings about gnosis.

 

The Systematic Transformation of the Chakras into Gnosis

Now on the model of breath and visioning just described let us go through the seven chakras, imagining each as a sun that radiates its own aspect of consciousness.

The first three chakras bring the bodily consciousness up into the mind. The last three bring the mental consciousness down into the bodily consciousness. They meet in the heart which is the center of being.  In this way the mind and body consciousness rediscovers its preseparated unity.

The routine of the first three chakras brings illuminated body consciousness up into integration with the mind.

The first chakra, imagined as a pink sun located in the perineum, radiates enthusiasm and connection and furtherance of life.  When expressed through imagination, it becomes our sexual fascination and obsession with objects in the world.

Experienced as chi on the inhale, it is withdrawn into its source in the perineum and, as a form of chi, experienced as pure vitality heated into concentrated life-positive force. With the outbreath it is brought up through the spine to the body center where it is experienced as the sense and instinct of moderation and balance, then up to the heart where it recognizes its own innate knowledge of the given or unconditional way of life as the instinct of what becomes known in Buddhism as “the middle way.” Then into the mind infusing it with the value of pure vital energy, life as ground wisdom, or dharma.  On the inhale this fundamental enthusiasm rises to the violet crown sun exploding into the fundamental blissful nature of consciousness itself. When this fundamental life enthusiasm and wisdom descends into the heart it recognizes its ground as the way of life itself, which breathed out into the consciousness shared with all sensate beings becomes pure life empathy and oneness, that is indubitable compassion for all things alive.  This results in the experience of oneness.

2. The second chakra is the red gold sun in the body center.  It radiates chi consciousness of the physical structure of the body, balance and the will of survival. When expressed through imagination, it becomes physical awareness and the drive of all commitment.

Inhaling fire into the spine and focusing into the body center, the red-gold sun becomes hot and luminous with the fundamental sense of body structure and survival (hara).  Passing through the heart chakra on the exhale, it becomes a sense of fortitude, of intrinsic justice, the path to the fruition of harmony. As it rises and heats the mind chakra it is experienced as will, commitment, definitive priority of life for self, loved ones, and species, and the intelligence of accommodation and organization.  Inhaling, it shoots out into the crown chakra experienced as the gnosis of the good as the center of existence.  Exhaling, it is brought down again into the heart, radiating as the wisdom of being producing foundational love, which is compassion.

3 The third chakra, the yellow sun at the solar plexus is the sense of physical reality. When  projected into the imagination it becomes “isness” or factuality,  the common structure of the physical body and world reality to which all intelligence of the outer world refers.

Inhaling fire into the spinal channel the yellow sun heats up and in the body center radiates chi as a sense of the common structure of physical and world reality. Reaching the heart it becomes a sense for conducting the self in this reality common to others, an empathetic sense of ones own needs among the needs or others, which produces temperance. Rising to the mind it brands intelligence with clarity about shared reality, brotherhood, truthfulness.  Shooting out the top of the head the chi heat becomes the gnosis of the peace of the union of spiritual and physical reality.  Brought back down into the heart it radiates into the common human world emptiness experienced as clarity in the common world.

4.  The fourth chakra is the green sun at the heart level shining forth care, emotion and morality.  When projected into mind it becomes the cares of our subjective world and the integrity of morality.  This is the center of the chakras and the sun in which mind and body reunite in the realization of original unity.

Inhaling fire into the spinal channel, the green sun heats up, filling the spinal channel with green fire.  On the exhale, the green body center radiates the awareness of all humans as one and the same consciousness, the knowing of which is omniscience.  As the fire reaches the heart it is experienced as limitless tolerance and the capacity for forgiveness.  Rising to the mind it becomes the commonality of all human hearts, sociable empathy, in its pure form, the omniscience which is the intelligence of “understanding”. Shooting out the top of the head the chi heat becomes the gnosis of the transcendental, the one consciousness that we all are.  Brought back down into the heart this is the truth of compassion, the ground of all morality.

As the lower three chakras bring the wisdom of chi up into the mind, so the higher three bring the mind down into the body.  This is the second phase of the integration process.

5. The fifth chakra at the nape of the neck is the intuition that refers back to the common structure of world reality, the isness of actuality, and construes its truth in terms of the common human heart.

Inhaling fire into the spinal channel, the light blue sun heats up and shines forth in the body center as chi in the sense of the strength of the wisdom of compassion. Rising to the heart with the exhale, this chi becomes realization of self which produces the essential prudence that is appropriate in the community of humankind.  Rising to the intelligence it modifies the understanding of balance and responsibility, confidence in ones own practical wisdom and respect for all, the intuitive clarity of the archetypal pilgrim path, or dharma.  Shooting out into the crown the chi becomes the gnosis of the nature of self and its path.  Brought back down into the heart it radiates the non-conceptual richness which is true knowing.

6. The sixth chakra at the center of the brain is the intellectual center which refers back to the body center, the source of chi, the structure of life and the adaptation necessary for survival and well being.

Inhaling fire into the spine and focusing into the mind center, it becomes hot and luminous and shines forth in the body center as truth.  Rising to the heart, this chi generates serenity and loyalty to truth.  Returning to the mind, reinforced with the chi, the intellect corresponds now to dharma, the beauty of all being, and wisdom as truth without position.  Shooting out into the crown the chi becomes the gnosis of liberation, which is freedom from all false attachment and posture.  Brought back down into the heart it radiates goodness and the sense of perfection.

7.  The seventh chakra at the crown of the head represents the entire spine as the whole of consciousness, the experience of which becomes the gnosis of wholeness, all consciousness.

Inhaling fire into the spine and focusing into the violet sun at the crown it becomes hot and luminous, sending violet flames into the spine.  As it focuses into the body center the violet sun shines forth as divine love which encompasses all.  Moving up into the heart it shines forth as goodness and into the mind it becomes immovable, solid wisdom.  At the crown it becomes the gnosis of pure diamond consciousness, the almighty.  Brought back down into the heart this bliss is experienced as ground consciousness radiating light and silent compassion into all humanity as its ground consciousness.

chakrasLeonardo’s Vetruvian Man with Chakras

 

 The Peace of the Great Truth

 At the end of what may be a very laborious process, the adept contemplator realizes that this luminous state of being is in fact the beginning, that which is and always has been present.   The primordial given state of consciousness, realized, becomes the enlightened state.  The Garden becomes the Kingdom, which is experienced as the true and absolute home of our being.   This is ultimate well-being.  The addictions of the body lose their hold. There is no longer any conflict between mind and body. There is no question as to the existence of God. Thus all spiritual and mental tension is released, resulting in a profound, inconceivable relaxation which the Upanishads calls, “the peace which passeth all understanding”.

The Basic Error of Western Thought

The Basic Error of Western Thought:
Final or absolute reality is conceptually based
The dream of a final, scientifically based explanation of reality and God has displaced and concealed the authentic contemplative means to attain true understanding.



The Basic Error of Western Thought

1. The belief that final or ultimate reality is conceptually based and calculable
2. The fundamental change in methodology from contemplation to calculation

Error 1. Ultimate knowing must be based on truth having the validity of scientific fact which can be stated in a proposition

Science projects the dream that in each area of inquiry, when all relevant information ultimately becomes available, we will be able to assemble a final theory that will explain or describe reality objectively.  Metaphysics has taken this over as the project of philosophy.  What is reality?  How did it come about?  What is the God that exists eternally throughout all the past and all the future?  Or, what is the substratum and structure of all material reality?   The very fact that we formulate the question already presupposes that there is an answer. The hidden dream of Western philosophy is to state that culminating proposition and come up with the formulation of reality, which is unchangeable and absolute.  We will then have arrived!

This project has been a miserable failure. Like a mirage in the desert, this eternally true formulation always disappears as we approach it.  Indeed, much of modern philosophical endeavor is about destroying this delusion.  Science and scientism, the intellectual tendency out of which the question took form, also contributed to the demise, because looking for this God in a context of scientific or historical veracity becomes absurd.  But the real problem is not that “God” does not exist, it is that the West has been looking for “Him” out there in the objective universe.  When Nietzsche says, “God is dead,” he adds, “We killed him off.”  We killed him off by selling our soul to the perspective of objective science — its all inclusive powers of understanding, and its child, materialism, which is the belief that everything is materially determined and that the objective laws of this determination are knowable and can be formulated and stated in a final form.

Any theory or body of information is conceptually based and always expressed in some linguistic formulation.  That conceptual base is always relative.  Martin Heidegger showed that there is no stated truth of Being, only a great evolving story, which is expressed by the world history of the thought of Being and its theoretical articulation.  Being evolves through the relative ways in which it is thought.  The unfolding conceptualization of Being throughout Western history is, in one sense, according to Heidegger, the nature of Being: its foundational nature however is never to be known through conceptualization, but only to be contemplated.  Restoring this capacity to the West was Heidegger’s great project.

Error 2. The fundamental change in methodology from contemplation, the disciplined observation of consciousness, to calculation or reasoning about the nature of reality

The erroneous dream of Western thought described above is based in the loss of the capacity for the disciplined observation of consciousness, once known as contemplation. The West has totally lost this capacity, though it existed richly in the pre-Christian Western mystery schools and to some extent into the early Christian era.  Contemplation is the central discipline of the great Asian religions, but the hegemony of Western thought and the perspectives of science have largely stamped it out.  

For contemplation, looking at consciousness and looking at emptiness are basically the same.  This seems absurd to the Western mind.  Therefore, everything in the ancient and Asian world that is based in contemplation is incomprehensible.

What Husserl and Heidegger essentially did with the discovery and development of phenomenology was to begin to open the possibility and lay the groundwork for a radical return of Western thought to authentic contemplation.  Phenomenology shifts our gaze, which is fixed, on what-is (objectively) and its description or explanation in propositions, to what primordially shows itself and reveals itself. Our crude and misleading word for this is “consciousness,” which is basically misunderstood to be one entity among the things of reality, and which science regards as irrelevant because it cannot be quantified. The difficulty Westerners have had with Husserl, and particularly the notorious obscurity of Heidegger’s formulations, is precisely because we in the West have lost this capacity for contemplation.  In order to achieve the basic skill of phenomenology to observe what primordially shows itself, while it is simply the actual way we primordially apprehend reality, seems to us impossibly difficult.  The language Heidegger evolved in order to describe this view seems opaque to the point of being ludicrous.

We relate to forms created in the mind through thought processes.  This is very different from gazing directly into consciousness.  Two expressions from Asia which describe this gaze point up the absurdity of the Western misunderstanding: contemplating the navel and the third eye.

Contemplating the navel is not sitting and staring at the opening in the base of your belly.  It refers to the hara or d’antien, the state produced by the experience of focusing awareness upon the internal sensation in the lower center of the body, four finger widths below the navel.  It is experience which has a focus, but no object. This is not object directed empiricism, but stilled, internal sensation which occurs by holding awareness of that area in the field of the inner body.  With practice, directing inner awareness to the dark emptiness of the internal hara permits a focus that is stable and without thought.  Yet, if one can sustain this internal gaze it becomes clear that one is looking into the dark silent center of consciousness out of which all that is perceived and thought, indeed pure power emerges.  So it is like looking into the kernel of energy from which the universe is created in a moment-to-moment silent big bang.  To take this into a calculation and determine metaphysically that this is the ultimate truth is to take the wrong direction.  The Zen Master would strike you a blow.  Simply stay in the calm abiding awareness.  At rest in this silence, the source begins to reveal itself.  This is radically empirical, meaning that it is experiential but not the experience of “real” objects or their causal relations.

The “third eye” is that inner directed awareness that sees and observes consciousness and its processes. It contrasts with the physical eyes that perceive the visible world, the grounding reality of empirical and material consciousness. Like the navel, the third eye is an external figure used as a metaphor for the capacity to observe objectless consciousness.  Yet once this seeing is trained to remain stable and unswerving, what it sees is the ground of all experience.  This is eternal, not in the sense that it has been and will be forever objectively present, but in the sense that it is always present to experience.  It is, in fact, the precondition of any experience.

You cannot know the absolute or God in the past or future, you can only have a present concept about it as an entity existing in the past or future.  No matter how your faith dictates that you believe it, this is all just a story, subject
to the relative mind, its r
eferences, and its error.  The bad news for those who want to reason it out conceptually is that the existence of an everlasting God, what comes to be known as divine, can only really be experienced, contemplated in the present.  The brilliance of Zen is that there is no story. The good news is that those who know how to contemplate this present as a presence have no need whatsoever for proofs of the existence of God.  To them, the “nature of God” comes in time to reveal itself and requires no explanation or justification.  What we call the true nature of God is in fact a state in which consciousness apprehends itself.

The difference between contemplation and calculation is delineated by Heidegger in one of his later essays, Was Heisst Denken? (“What is called thinking?” or, alternatively, “What calls up thinking?”)  Heidegger understood that we can only look directly into Being in the present, observing presencing, a systematic form of contemplation which came out of the method of phenomenology.  This perspective tries to focus on what shows itself and how it reveals itself by “bracketing out” or looking beyond what-is or what is real or any explanation whatsoever.  In the course of his endeavors, after many wrong turns, Heidegger determined that we can do this by direct contemplation (phenomenological ontology and its later derivative attitudes) or by looking into the root ways that language brings Being forth (Heidegger’s idiosyncratic use of the German language and study of seminal Greek words).

Had Heidegger turned his view towards Sanskrit, he would have found all of this in a most rarified and sophisticated form.  After completing my study of Heidegger, in Europe, I had the great honor and pleasure of studying the Upanishads for two years as Senior Research Fellow in Banaras Hindu University at the Center for the Advanced Study of Philosophy. I discovered that Heidegger’s bridge into a more contemplative approach to Being leads into a deeper understanding of the Sanskrit tradition.  Much of what Heidegger was discovering was already well established in many of the traditions and schools of Indian thought and of the greater Asian (Buddhist and Taoist) tradition.

The Upanishads are the very perfection of what Heidegger in his later thought called dichterisch Denken, “poetic (dense) thought.”  Most of Indian thought is a reflection on these ancient poems of Being, written in commentaries.  Coming to contemplative understanding through a kind of archeology of language reaches its fulfillment in the ancient study of Sanskrit called “Nirukta”.  Western scholars think of Nirukta as a form of etymology, but this perverts its real intention into Western scientific categories.  The Nirukta is in fact a very sophisticated process of deriving Sanskrit words back into the roots of consciousness from which they came.  However, this is not for the purpose of understanding objectively the historical evolution or structure of the language, but rather to illuminate Being  (or how our consciousness shows itself forth as Being).  It is an elaborate and sophisticated aid to contemplation, as indeed are all the great renewals of thought in the Sanskrit tradition. It keeps revising itself in the absolute necessity of remaining pure in contemplation and not degenerating into mere philosophizing.  It is only Western minds (and Indian minds that try to legitimize themselves in terms of Western philosophy) that turn the contemplative treasures of India into hypotheses and propositions about the nature of reality.  As the Buddha said, “Such questions do not fit the case.”
 
Contemplation is of course not observing a tabula rasa.  Emptiness is no blank slate on which the mind and its calculations are projected, rather the contemplation proceeds deeper and deeper into the source, the absolute and simple giving forth of all that is. (This is expressed in the German words for “There is x.” Es gibt x actually means “It gives x.”) The giving forth is the moment-to-moment creating of reality.  But as soon as the experience of the source gets articulated, the habit of mind by which the West latches onto its first fundamental error, the dream of an explanation, is once again, infernally, set in motion.

During the eighteenth century Enlightenment Western intellectuals came to dream that reason, calculation, could lead to genuine happiness.  Our attempts in this direction have not produced happiness.  Though the benefits of technology have created the space for happiness to happen, the dream has basically failed.  No, reason and calculation do not lead to happiness, but genuine contemplation can lead to bliss. 

 

Foundational Dissent and British Nihilism

BRITISH NIHILISM AT CAMBRIDGE

FOUNDATIONAL DISSENT
The Iconography of Stephen Hawking


Stephen Hawking and his Lovely wife

Stephen Hawking, the world famous Cambridge cosmologist, is almost completely incapacitated by severe motor neurone disease.  He is at once the most courageous, the most vulnerable, and the most brilliant person I have ever encountered.  An icon of human aspiration, he and his disability compare to a normally functioning human being as the intellect compares to the actual challenge of comprehending the Universe. In this way he is a mythic icon of Cambridge itself.  To me however, he and his condition symbolize the scientific project to penetrate into the mystery of Being, a crumpled and attenuated attempt to understand our universe when we have overlooked the robust nature of our true home.

Questions:
Does an ant live in the same universe as humans do?  If not, how is it different?
Does the universe contain consciousness or does consciousness contain the universe?

In November of 2005 Cambridge served up an intellectual feast in San Francisco for its West Coast graduates.  The “Cambridge Day” was a splendid opportunity to relate to an expert team of governors and professors from Cambridge.  As the University was setting about to raise 1.75 Billion Dollars, it was quite lavish.  The star speaker at the climax of a day of lectures was Stephen Hawking, the world famous cosmologist, who is almost completely incapacitated by severe motor neurone disease.  His subject: the Origins of the Universe.


View of King’s College from the Cambridge River

Some of the happiest days of my life were spent at Cambridge.  For an American, the experience could be described as “mythic”. Culturally I felt more stimulated there than anyplace I have ever lived.  Intellectually however, I was not so much a foreigner, as an alien.  This position arose not from being a Yank, but from my dedication to the study of Martin Heidegger, which earlier at the Harvard Divinity School had inspired me to set off on life as a pilgrim on the way of philosophical gnosis.  According to this great 20th Century thinker – distinctly unfashionable at Cambridge — the prevailing scientific mentality has us so enamored of the “ontic world” of external facts and objects, that we have forgotten the “Ground of Being”.  Translated into more operational terms, this means that our collective gaze is fixated so firmly on the world that we have forgotten that everything we can experience or calculate is grounded in our consciousness.  Heidegger’s perspective is well on the way to the extreme Buddhist view that there is nothing other than “consciousness only”.  But this is no intellectual proposition.  To treat it as such is to reduce it to an absurdity.  It is a fundamental insight arrived at only through contemplation, a first person objectivity which over millennia has been developed as rigorously as the methods of advanced science.  It is experiential, radically empirical, and a perspective fundamentally absent at Cambridge. 

There is, however, elsewhere in the world, an upsurge of brilliant investigation into consciousness informed in part by ancient contemplative traditions.  Having studied the history of ideas, it is my guess that over time, as this fundamental ground comes to be attended and understood anew, the evaluation of the nature of this world and the universe will be radically modified.  And, one day, today’s most advanced scientific propositions will be seen as dated and quaint, rather the way we now view mythological cosmologies that once served as the informed explications of the world.

                *                     *                      *

This is an old story.  Throughout the history of the world there has been a timeless dialogue between what we could loosely call “Platonists” and “Aristotelians”.  Platonists tend to focus on the experience of consciousness as the ground of all being, and Aristotelians focus on the “outer” world in which consciousness comes to be designated as merely one thing among others.  Aristotelians are disposed to look for an ontic God out there, an intelligent designer. (Fn 1, see bottom of text)  Once they become materialists they drop this quest.  The basis of true religion and mystical experience is Platonic.  Psychologically speaking, Platonists are gnostics.  They are not theistically inclined; their doubt is focused on the world itself, and they come to understand the intelligent design of all experience as the one God. This dialogue of perspectives is at the heart of the question of the foundation of Being and is never really resolved.  There are always two camps that are unable to settle the issues that arise around this ontological difference.

This is no mere academic controversy: it is deep in the heart of our time. These two views as to “what we are in”, are the core issue in today’s crises over the question of faith, the existence of God, and the meaning of existence itself.  Aristotelians, now largely atheistic materialists, live in an ontic world of things and scientific facts, all of which add up to the absurdity of there being any intelligent agency such as God.  (Fn 2)  In the late Nineteenth Century Nietzsche proclaimed this absurdity to be “the death of God”, bringing into view nihilism as the present reality in the West: a “flat world” having no intrinsic value, with all its consequent materialistic depravity and spiritual anarchy. To redress this profound imbalance, the frustrated “faithful” would force their belief (which they confuse with fact) upon the world in ways that grow daily more violent: everything from warrior fundame
ntalists to the “faithful” a
mong the Aristotelians trying to impose “Intelligent Design” to sneak God back into the ontic world by the respectable, scientific door.  They are desperate.  Nihilism, compounded by increasingly rapid change, creates fundamental existential suffering. In contrast, Platonists, and the traditions of Asia, contemplate what we are in as consciousness.  All is consciousness.  They have no problem with the existence of God, because they know that anyone who has “known God” has in fact realized their own consciousness as the basis of existence.  The Aristotelian view leads to an atheistic metaphysics and the crises of nihilism: the Platonic leads ultimately to a monistic consciousness-based reality.


                *        *        *

Cambridge is one of the distinguished world capitols of the prevailing materialism and scientism of the modern world, a paragon of the Aristotelian camp.  Over six years of residence and many visits to Cambridge, I have loved it and rejoiced in the enchantment of life there, but I always felt something of an outsider, because although I appreciate the Aristotelian enormously, my inner knowing is Platonist.  We inhabit consciousness and our universe inhabits consciousness as well.  In some fundamental way, the endeavor to understand the universe is fundamentally futile if we have not comprehended its container.  It is woefully insufficient to say that this container is just one item among others, which we will get around to one day when we come to final knowledge of the facts of the universe.  Furthermore, so long as we do not comprehend the ground, our true home, we will never achieve real well-being.  If I have any conviction, it is this.

   
Two weeks prior to this wonderful Cambridge event, participants received an e-mail invitation to send in a question for Steven Hawking.  During his lecture on the origins of the universe, he would pick four of these questions to answer. I thought it was just the time to put out this foundational question: how can we account for the universe when we have not considered the ground of being and merely assume that the real world (or universe) exists outside of our consciousness?
 
When I received this e-mail, I was visiting my friend Stephan Schwartz.  He is in my view one of the pre-eminent figures trying to restore consciousness to the center of scientific endeavor.  He suggested that I put forth the question in this way: “How does consciousness interface with quantum mechanics?”  I sent this in as I felt that it formulated the entire question in a very scientific way.

Early in the Cambridge Day, Gerry Gilmore, Professor of the Philosophy of Experimentation, lectured on the origin and future of the universe.  At the end of his lecture I asked the question I had asked in my e-mail, adding:  How does consciousness relate to this universe?  He answered that it was a very interesting question.  After the lecture I asked him if there is anything that can be said or thought or posited to exist that is outside of consciousness.  Together, we quickly came to the striking formulation that the entire inquiry into the experimental method of science (his real field of study) comes to this: the history of humankind’s attempt to get outside of consciousness and ascertain what is “really there.”  When pressed, he admitted that he was not at all sure that we have been able to do it.  Then he added, “I am not even certain that it can be done.” In the end, this was the most satisfying answer to my questions.  It confirmed my own life inquiry, inspired and ultimately defined by Heidegger: how can we come to the truth of beings until we come to the truth of Being.
   
In the course of this academic feast set before us by Cambridge we had the opportunity to delight in the excellence of every kind of ontic endeavor.  At the end was the climactic moment when Stephen Hawking appeared.  To much applause, a student rolled him out in his little wheel chair cum computer.  It was a fathomlessly touching sight, his attenuated paralyzed body crumpled piteously in this conveyance, which is his mechanical body.  His wife/nurse, strikingly red- headed and vital, stood nearby. As he was rolled up to the speaker’s platform, we were all fixated in silent awe.  It was explained to us that Stephen can operate a computer mounted on his conveyance through a sensor that picks up signals generated by fluctuations in one cheek muscle, the only part of his body that he can still control.  The digital formulations it produces on the screen mounted before him are then spoken out of a box in a kind of robotic squawk. One could barely comprehend the vast contradiction between his physical capacity and the gigantic robustness of his intellect. The overall effect was stupendous: one was in the presence of a high-tech Oracle.

Hawking spoke for about 45 minutes, tracing the answers in history to the question; ” What is the Universe?”  It was such an awesome experience to watch him perform, that only when the lecture was over did I realize that he had not chosen to answer my question.
 
Shortly afterwards there was a cocktail reception where the academic luminaries were available for schmoozing and socializing.  It was an intoxicating climax to a deliriously heady experience.

At one point I suddenly found myself in front of Hawking and his attractive entourage.  No one was speaking.  Carpe Diem!  I asked him if he remembered my question, and the speaker box answered, “Yes”.  I then repeated it:  “What is the relationship of consciousness to the quantum universe?”  Subsequently, his wife told me that it took 140 hours for him to prepare his lecture.  This is why the questions had to be pre-sorted.  If you ask him a question it takes about five minutes for him to formulate an answer.  To call this an awkward silence is an understatement; it was an oracular silence.

For five discomfited minutes of much clicking I could observe the miniscule fluctuations of his cheek by which he was finding words for his answer on the screen before him.  It was uncomfortable to say the very least, with all of his entourage around him and others waiting for the answer.  The atmosphere was close.  Even stifling.  I asked my friend, who was standing behind him, to write down the answer that came on the screen, as I was sure I would not r

emember it rightly once it emerged out of the voice box.  After an interminable wait, an answer came: “Conshusness is very hard to define from the outside.  Can we tell if a computer has it?”  It was stunningly accurate; this dismissal of consciousness because it is not a quantifiable object is where the monumental error begins. 

No doubt emboldened by two glasses of champagne, I heard a torrent of words coming out of my own voice box.  “The computer extends our consciousness, which itself can only be described from inside because it is our essential container.  Have you ever had one thought, one perception, one formulation that was not first contained within consciousness?  How can we get out of this container without first understanding how we are absolutely grounded in it?”  As I wanted him to hear me, I was very close to him. 

Then came an abysmal moment when I realized this dialogue was all too fundamental, too complex for this appalling and awkward hi-tech situation.  Empathetically I saw in his eyes at once his goodness and a look of fright that, even if he could answer, the formulation and process of getting it out was simply overwhelming, especially in this cocktail party situation.  In this moment of fathoming his vulnerability, I also saw my own aggressiveness and deep frustration that the basic questions in my heart were never addressed by his science or by Cambridge. At the same time his charming helper said to me tactfully, that it is much better if I can formulate my question for a yes or no answer.  I drew back my force and crouched closer to him, and, with as much care as I could muster, apologized for being overbearing and said that this is a wonderful debate, but far too basic and complex to deal with in this circumstance. As the whole entourage proceeded on into another room, I am sure he felt relieved.

As I recovered from this encounter, I was flooded with many realizations.  First of all, his answer was sufficient.  His endeavor and that of the scientific method can deal only with what can be quantified and objectified.  Insofar as scientists like my friend Stephan Schwartz can succeed in objectifying and quantifying aspects of consciousness, we can be grateful to them as they proceed on their noble course, but the way I have taken, informed by many years in India and California, is finally the ancient path of contemplation, learning how to stand motionless within consciousness and observe objectively the pre-ontic primordial ground we are all in and how it gives birth to the world and universe we think we are in.  (Fn 3)  Bypassing Cambridge, whose ignorance of this is resolutely provincial, I have gone to the ages and to other continents, where there have been many masters and traditions of contemplation.  Formal contemplation is not aggressive and does not yield technology or its boons, but it is truer, and it generates true civilization.  This is what I have come to in my passionate seeking.  It is inveterately Platonic in an Aristotelian world, a difference as old as contemplation itself.  There are other chronic Platonists out there, and we are all working to come to terms in new ways with what we and this universe are.  If there is a future for human culture, it will ultimately depend upon this and not some ultimate mastery of facts.


As for lovely Hawking, shortly after this encounter he had a crisis, was rushed to the hospital in San Francisco, and actually stopped breathing.  Through emergency procedures doctors were able to revive him, and he continued on his tour!  He is at once the most courageous, the most vulnerable, and the most brilliant person I have ever encountered.  He is an icon of human aspiration.  He and his disability compare to a normally functioning human being as the intellect compares to the actual challenge of comprehending the Universe.  As we all basically intuit this in his presence, he and the bravery with which he faces every moment is a symbol of our ambition and inspiration in the face of our appalling vulnerability and ultimate ignorance.  In this way he is a mythic icon of Cambridge itself.  To me however he and his condition symbolize the scientific project to penetrate into the mystery of Being, a crumpled and attenuated attempt to understand our universe when we have overlooked the robust nature of our true home.  

Addendum 2008 – Humanities at Cambridge

Footnote 1:  Aristotle himself was philosophically devoted to a God who was however “out there” and “remote”, either as a first cause (way back there at the beginning) or as a telos, ultimate purpose of all things (way out there at the end).  This became the basis for the philosophical justification of Christian theism in the Middle Ages, the position which the progress of science has gradually rendered invalid.

Footnote 2:  This is not to say that scientists cannot be religious, as so many of the really great ones have been: Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Schweitzer and Gregor Mendel come to mind.  But for the most part, they partition off their religion from their scientific understanding of data.  Mystical insight grows in them with their awe at the universe and their maturity as human beings.  They see religion as another “dimension”, an intuitive one, to be pursued on its own as a matter of faith: they do not dedicate themselves to understanding how the objects they are studying are rooted in a Divine Ground of consciousness that is prior to data or phenomena.  Scientists that dedicate themselves to subversive theistic trends such as “intelligent design” are hugely frowned upon.  I doubt they would be tolerated at Cambridge.

Footnote 3: The Dalai Lama, who has for decades dedicated himself to the study of Western science, has recently begun a campaign to inspire scientists to validate the extreme rigor of 25 centuries of Buddhist contemplation and to give the kind of credence to disciplined first person observation that it gives traditionally to objective empirical observation.  Such a radical shift in scientific perspective would drastically alter the entire situation. It would entitle science to view the reality of “I” with the same rigor as it presently fixes on the reality of “it”.  The phenomenologists following upon Edmund Husserl and culminating in Heidegger carried out this project, but it remained a philosophical discipline, not a scientific one.